This story was my entry to the HP_ZOMBIE FEST CHALLENGE (October, 2011). I went with this prompt:
- a_queen_bee's "Zombies vs. Vampires" prompt as made on the HP_Zombiefest LJ site
- other prompt words: "immortality," "rose," "collar," "kink," "cough"
HUGE thank you goes out to my wonderful beta (Unseenlibrarian) – I owe you, again! Also, thank you to the mods of the HP_Zombiefest for putting on this fantastic challenge – what a great idea!
Hope you all enjoy! Please review and let me know, yeah?
Disclaimer:"Harry Potter" belongs to JK Rowling and Warner Bros. "Vampire: The Masquerade" and "Vampire: The Requiem" is copyright of White Wolf Game Studio. I do not own either story arc or any of its characters, nor do I profit in any way from the use of said characters and situations in this writing.
StoryDetails: Novel compliant up to the night before the Final Battle of Hogwarts (May 1, 1998). After that, this story is completely Alternate Universe (A/U). Characters are OOC (out-of-character) because of the plot.
Main Characters (by alphabetical order, last name): Lucian Bole, Peregrine Derrick, Gregory Goyle, Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy, Theodore Nott, Adrian Pucey, Evan Rosier III, Cris Warrington, Blaise Zabini
Secondary Characters (by alphabetical order, last name; all characters in this section are from the HP world – video games, official deleted novel characters, theme park, etc.): Mafalda Bailey, Eleanor Branstone, Felicity Eastchurch, Vicky Frobisher, Sage Kelleen, Abigail Nicola, Latisha Randal, Patricia Stimpson
Summary:Voldemort won the war, but his perfect fascist regime came crashing down around his ears just three years later when a bizarre viral pandemic - a zombie plague - spreads like wildfire throughout the U.K. and quickly ravages both Muggle and Wizard alike. The Dark Lord disappears, and his hold on power collapses, leaving anarchy and chaos in its wake. The same is true of the Muggle government, and soon, the British Isles have become a quarantined biohazard region as millions become infected… Hermione Granger has been stuck in Azkaban for the last three years, a prisoner of Voldemort's regime. When the plague struck, the prison (run by Voldy's loyalists) was abandoned and those locked away inside left to die. Luck is on her side, though, because Draco Malfoy has been looking for her…
Extra: The zombie plague spread rate for this fic is based on the R0 rate (the basic reproduction number; that is, how many people a single diseased person can infect in one day) used to determine the Black Death (1347-1353, European numbers only). Research on magical creatures led me to the world of "Vampire: The Masquerade" and "Vampire: The Requiem," and I found it to be brilliant for providing me the set-up here for the overall explanation of Vampirism and Zombies in this story. I'm borrowing elements from that storytelling game for this fic.
Rating:MA+/NC-17(very explicit consensual heterosexual sex; implied [not described] non-consensual sex; profanity; alcohol consumption; mentions of a viral disease epidemic, the walking undead [zombies], vampirism, mental illness, rape, death, and cannibalism; Vampire blood drinking and mating)
Terms from the White Wolf universe that appear in this fanfic that you need to know:
Kindred = What Vampires refer to each other as.
Embraced = When a Vampire turns a human into a Vampire.
Sire = The Vampire that does the Embracing.
Childer = The human that has been Embraced and made Vampire. They adopt all of the curses and benefits of their Sire.
Diablerize = When a Vampire drains another Vampire of blood and eats their soul to gain their powers.
Antediluvians = Third Generation Vampires. These Vampires were supposedly created by Enoch, Irad and Zillah (the Childer of Caine – as in Caine & Abel from the Bible – the man who murdered his younger brother; Caine was Embraced by Lillith, Adam's first wife/the first woman ever made, who was kicked out of The Garden of Eden for tasting the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge – Eve was created after as Adam's companion). Lore holds there to be thirteen Antediluvians and from each of these vampires come the thirteen original Clans.
Original terms/ideas I made up for this fic:
Bloodswigger/Fanged Ones = nasty slang for Vampires.
Kine/Bloodlet = A newly made Vampire; a Childer.
Salus Revelio = "Reveal Health" – a spell I made up for the fic to check a person's health status for zombie infection.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON THE "VAMPIRE:THE MASQUERADE/THE REQUIEM" UNIVERSE THAT YOU MAY WANT TO READ (it contains important elements to this story if you are unfamiliar with that world, as well as other types of interesting information about the story's characters) can be found in the ADDITIONAL NOTES section at the bottom of chapter two. You don't have to read that section, but I encourage you to do so to fully appreciate the plots woven together to make this story work.
Images to go along with this fic (banners, characters, places mentioned in the story - remove all spaces to load the URL properly): http://s905 . photobucket . com / albums / ac260 / RZZMG / The%Dream%Of%Immortality
THE DREAM OF IMMORTALITY
Azkaban Prison – somewhere in the North Sea
2 April, 2001
Hermione had prayed every day for three years for death to come and take her away. So far, no one had answered her pleas.
After a thousand and sixty-six days incarcerated, or thereabouts, her unhinged mind began to wonder: what if there was no real death? You know, the type written about in books and shown in movies, where you saw your family members and the events of your life flash before your eyes like a picture-book or a Muggle film reel. What if dying was all just a joke told to smokescreen the fact that all you really had to look forward to was gasping for your last breath and then the endless black, like how it was when you went under anesthesia.
She'd been operated on once to get some extra teeth removed because they'd been crowding her mouth, and had been put under anesthesia. Her parents had performed the surgery.
"Count backwards from ten, Hermione."
She'd struggled at first to breathe, as the mask fitted over her nose and mouth was too tight, but after readjusting it for her, her mother bade her try again. Always an obedient child, she'd done as asked.
She'd made it to eight before there was nothing to see, nothing to know. She was immortal and eternal in a realm of silence, empty sky and no ice cream. To a seven-year old, that was the scariest thing in the world - scarier even than the monsters living under your bed and in your closet.
She felt a lot like that now. It was pitch black here, in her cell, and it was silent. She was the only one still left in A Wing. Everyone else had died over the years. She was alone.
Maybe she was dead already and just didn't know it.
Azkaban Prison – somewhere in the North Sea
3 April, 2001
The door to Hermione's cell was blasted open. Brilliant white light as she hadn't seen in nearly three years lit up the stone chamber, and she hid her eyes from it, turning her face into the wall. There was a momentary pause, and the air was thick with surprise. A nasty profanity was spat.
For the first time in months, she felt magic upon her. It brushed against her aura and tingled, making her shiver. The vibration cut through the grey wall of insanity that had covered and protected her mind for so long reminding her of what she once was and all she had lost. Memories flashed before her eyes – ginger hair and laughing blue eyes, Harry's death by Voldemort's hand, the rattling wails of Dementors as they roamed the corridors of the prison to which she'd been brought three years before and held ever since, cackling Death Eaters and loyal Snatchers delighting in sadistic violence and cruelty towards the prisoners… and then there were the dreams of red eyes rimmed by silver, and loving touches, of whispered words meant to sustain her flagging spirits, and a pledge of help soon to come…
"She's safe," a different voice hissed from the doorway. "Now hurry the fuck up. Sunrise is coming."
Footsteps fast approached over the stone, clicking loudly in her sensitive ears. She cringed back as far as she could into the corner, quaking in fear. Was this her fantasy rescuer come as promised?
A rough hand grabbed her by the hair and yanked, pulling at her to stand.
"On your feet," the wizard demanded. "Get up, Granger, get up!"
She tried to obey, but her legs had weakened from malnutrition, and her left hip had been broken the year before during a torture session and the bone had not set correctly. It did not allow her the type of freedom of movement she wished, and supporting her weight on it was painful. It's why she spent most of her time sitting or laying flat. She fell back against the wall, panting with the effort of just making it to her feet, and nearly slid back down to her bum. Her captor caught her up in his arms.
He smelled of sweat and desperation.
"Just carry her or something," another voice hissed from the doorway.
Her captor tsk'd, then bent at the waist and arranged her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Her feet left the floor, and her bad hip shifted, causing the poorly healed bone to grate in its socket. Hermione gasped with the sharp pain.
"Salazar's stones, she stinks!" a third man stated from the doorway. He adjusted the weight of a body over his shoulder. "This one here does, too. Gods, are you sure this was a good idea, Blaise?"
The second man – Blaise, as in Zabini? – sighed in frustration. "Look, you wanker, we all agreed to this plan. Every man gets his own woman. I'm sick of sharing mine with you and Derrick. Just bathe your new, little slave when you get her home, Nott. You've got enough girly products in your bath to have her smelling like a rose come afternoon."
"Fuck you," Nott – as in Theodore Nott? – spat.
"Shall I send for some tea while we all discuss it?" her captor sneered, and the tone was so familiar to her, yet she couldn't quite place it. "Just move your arses, both of you. We're running out of time."
A noise from down the corridor had all of them freezing in place and straining to listen. A minute passed, then two, and when it was clear that whatever it was that had startled them had either moved on or was a trick of amplified sound from further away, the men let out their held breaths.
"I'm going on to find Greg," Blaise told his companions. "He's been gone for at least twenty minutes. Don't leave without us."
"Don't take too long," her captor admonished. "And remember to check for infection if you decide to pick up a second woman, Zabini."
Blaise hurried off, his footfalls loud as he ran towards the end of the row and headed into B Wing, where the less-important prisoners were jailed. She was in A Wing, where the remaining Order members had been kept.
"You're hurting my hip," she croaked to her savior. "It's broken."
Her captor adjusted her weight again to take pressure off of her injured bones. His solid muscles bunched under her belly as he easily held her up. "Do us a favour: keep your mouth shut, would you, Granger? I'd rather not attract unwanted attention."
Again, that voice… so familiar.
"Make sure yours stays silent, too, Nott," he warned his companion, heading for the door, his stride unencumbered by her weight, miniscule as it was. "The infected might be in here. If they hear us, I don't fancy a fight."
"No worries, mate," Theodore cheekily replied. "I zapped her good with the old mesmerizing stare and silence command."
Too weak to ask the questions that hung across her tongue, Hermione clung to the robes of the man who had hold of her, and hoped this was the rescue she'd prayed forever for.
Malfoy Manor – Wiltshire, England
3 April, 2001
With a sickening pull and a crash of thunder in her ears, Hermione and her savior/captor arrived in a flash somewhere outside of the prison. She had no idea where, as she couldn't see much from her position hanging over the man's back. She could see a gravel walkway, that her captor wore black, and as she lifted her head just a bit, that they were surrounded on three sides by large yew bushes. Her eyes took a few precious seconds to register dim sunlight – the pinky-grey that comes just before dawn.
They were out in the countryside. She knew this because the air smelled sweet – heady with fresh dew upon the surrounding greenery. There was no city smog and no hum of cars or conversation. There was only the buzzing of insects and the calls of the morning birds happily greeting the new day.
She broke down in quiet sobs, clinging to her savior's back with a tightly clenched fist.
"Shut up," her rescuer commanded, and moved forward just as the sound of several more incoming Apparitions signaled they were not alone. "Hurry up," he called over his shoulder at the new arrivals. "I want the wards immediately back in place."
The group moved beyond the gates, and the man holding her up turned to close them behind. He cast several very strong protection and disillusionment spells back the way they had come, and then hurried to follow the others, adjusting her once more on his shoulder with an easy roll of muscle. Whoever this man was, he was strong, but not bulky. He was careful in his shifting of her, as if he was trying his best not to cause her undue pain.
It took several minutes to get up the long drive, and into the house. Hermione did her best to look around, but turning her head hurt, so she was stuck straining her eyes.
A huge, thick, wooden front door. Grey stone floors in the foyer - very old and worn. They took a set of stairs up into a room with wooden floors that were well-cared for. The place was drafty and smelled of pine and lemon polish. They passed through the long room, which was also vaguely familiar, and through a door at the other end. A long hallway, more wood, this time lined with carpet runners that looked plush and expensive. They passed by closed doors, and then she was hauled up another flight of stairs – these longer, more grand, made of marble. At the top, the corridor split left and right; they went right. The other men – she could see them now as she lifted her tired head – wore black robes, too. Dirt streaked their knees and shoes. Some of them had captives – women, by the shape of the dirty calves and feet – carried in the exact same way she was being held. They split, the others going left. She and her rescuer alone traveled through another hallway and into a quiet wing of the house.
None of it was familiar now. She could have been in the Palace of Versailles for all she knew, although the opulence around her wasn't that grand.
Finally, at the end of their corridor, they came to their destination – a private chamber, obviously the master's from the ornate doors she spied as they passed through them, and the way the cushioned carpet under her liberator's feet allowed for a softer stride. The doors magically closed behind, and the lock clicked into place.
They passed by antique furniture – a sofa, an end table, a cozy chair – at a dizzying speed, and then she was in what was obviously a bathroom and being lowered onto a vanity bench. "Stay here," her champion required, and stepped away.
The lights in the bathroom were bright, and Hermione blinked several times. Her eyes had been condemned to the dimness of torch and candlelight for most of the past three years, having had no window in her cell, and so it took a bit to adjust. As she struggled to regain her bearings, the sound of a shower running and the accompanying increase in humidity in the room had her heart racing.
Clean water. She hadn't seen it very often, aside from drinking, and then that had only been two cups a day. She hadn't bathed in… longer than she could remember.
"Mopsy, come," the strange man commanded and Hermione recognized the 'pop' of a house-elf Apparition into the room.
Glancing up, she saw that the small creature had appeared in the middle of the marble and tile room. It's long, grayish ears were folded downward in the meek, servant's pose and its eyes were on the floor. It wore a clean, magenta-coloured sheet-turned-dress over its thin body and appeared in good health.
"Master calls," the small, female elf intoned with great respect. "Mopsy comes."
"Bathe, clothe and feed her. See to her injuries however you must. Fix her broken hip, especially."
Hermione looked up to confirm the identity of her rescuer.
Draco Malfoy calmly met her gaze, impassive and supremely confident. He was physically different from how she remembered him – filled-in with age, not quite so sharp or pointy, more aristocratic and handsome, sleek of muscle and long of leg. His soft, platinum hair fell just past his shoulders and was pulled back at his nape, and his eyes were that same silvery-grey that had always fascinated her, even when it repelled her in its coldness.
"Collar her," he instructed the elf. "And inform her of her new duties in this house, as we discussed earlier. She is your responsibility to instruct, Mopsy."
The little elf bowed at the waist. "As Master commands."
With that, Malfoy strode past her and out the door – out of the apartment. The main doors shut behind him with a resounding boom.
That was the day Hermione began her second incarceration, different in some ways from her previous, but similar in others, as she was quick to learn.
Malfoy Manor – Wiltshire, England
1 May, 2001
A month had passed, and by now, Hermione well understood her situation: she'd been brought to Malfoy's Manor House in the Wiltshire countryside to be the man's personal slave. She was property now – his property - and her life was forfeit if she displeased him in any manner. The collar around her neck was a daily, soul-crushing reminder of that fact.
Mopsy had indeed explained in great detail Hermione's responsibilities to Slytherin's former Prince so long as she lived in his service, as well as cautioned her to obey "Master Draco's requirements" – which turned out to be a list of bulleted, pertinent items written in a regal, arrogantly expectant tone. For instance, he cautioned her against trying to escape. In fact, he'd rather sarcastically pointed out on this instruction that if she so much as touched the wards that circled around the edges of the property, she would give 'extra crispy' a whole new meaning. The wards served as a sort of magical electrical fence with a voltage guaranteed to barbeque her inside and out. He also included times that he required her to perform her chores (which he listed, and which Mopsy verbally reiterated). He reminded her too that he expected her to keep herself clean, well-groomed and well-fed, and that he wanted her to regain her proper weight and looks, as he insisted that "no personal servant of mine will appear unkempt." He also rather strenuously warned her not to venture out of the room provided for her in the servants' quarters between the hours of eight at night and five in the morning, or face possible death.
As for her relationship with the man, well, he'd treated her fairly decently whenever their paths crossed – usually a few times a week. He never spoke harshly to her, although he wasn't by any stretch of the imagination warm towards her, either. He commanded, and expected to be obeyed, but his list of requirements wasn't very difficult to fulfill – keep his suite, his personal study and his clothing clean, and share in the tending of the gardens in the greenhouse. He didn't require her to cook for him or to bring him meals, or to draw his bath at night. She didn't warm his bed either, although she suspected someone in the house was doing so, as the mattress would be dented in two or even three places some mornings. The only disconcerting thing he did was stare at her when they were in each other's presence. She could feel his eyes watching her every move during those times, cataloguing her actions, and she wondered if he was looking for some fault so he could have an excuse to mistreat her as he once had during their Hogwarts days.
Overall, though, Malfoy left her to her own devices most of the time, providing her with a book a week for her to enjoy should she perform her duties without issue, and treating her no differently from Mopsy.
As for the other residents in the Manor, that first night she'd met in the communal servants' sleeping quarters all of the other eight serving women in the house – one for each of the men living there with them, including: Blaise Zabini, Theodore Nott, Adrian Pucey, Evan Rosier III, Cris Warrington, Gregory Goyle, Lucian Bole, and Peregrine Derrick. Slytherins, the lot. It made her uncomfortable to be around so many snakes, honestly.
According to the gossip she'd picked up from the other witches over the last several weeks, the nine Death Eaters and their nine servants, along with the single house-elf, were all holed up at the Malfoy estate because there had been some sort of pandemic sweeping across the U.K. for the past four months. Voldemort had fled in the face of it once half of his Death Eaters and Snatcher army succumbed to the disease, and no one knew where he'd gone. Without instruction or guidance, the nine school-chum Death Eaters had huddled together to combine their magic to ward off the outbreak, their plan being to wait out the illness, and then sweep into the abandoned land to claim it as their own once the epidemic had presumably died off.
The disease was apparently highly infectious, causing the dead to rise again to feed off of the living with a voracious appetite, although no one understood how such a thing was accomplished. The scourge had a one-hundred percent mortality rate and no known cure, though, and was passed by saliva – specifically, biting. It had been nicknamed, "The Zombie Plague" on the Wizarding Wireless Network (that according to Pucey's servant, who had commented that she'd heard all about it before the transmissions went off-the-air. This was around the same time in late March when the Muggles had evacuated the country and proclaimed the entire U.K. a quarantined biohazard region).
She wondered if the Muggles would just nuke the island. If so, no spell in a wizard's arsenal would protect against that kind of power. She mentioned her concerns to Malfoy one mid-morning, as she was preparing to hang up his freshly laundered clothes in his closet.
"Explain to me exactly how a nuclear bomb works," he bid, a marked frown crossing his features.
This was a difficult task, as to understand such a thing you had to understand atoms and their subatomic particles and how electrical charges worked to get radioactivity and its decay. However, educating others was one of Hermione's favourite things in the world to do, and it had been a very long time since she'd been able to metaphorically stretch the bounds of her knowledge. She attempted to explain basic Muggle science to him.
He was patient, sitting on the edge of his bed, listening without interruption for the entire hour of her lecture.
"In overview: Muggles have perfected the method for keeping plutonium in a subcritical mass, which will not support fusion. They've designed a mechanical delivery device – called a 'bomb' – that can be remotely moved anywhere in the world and detonated. Once the bomb is in place, they flip a switch designed to ignite the fusion reaction, and this causes the plutonium to go into a state of supercritical mass. BOOM!" She mimicked something blowing up with her hands, raising them above her head. "The area immediately around the detonation is immediately vapourized because of the high temperature, which is about the same heat as the surface of the sun. Beyond ground zero – the center of the bomb blast – the destruction radiates outward. Nothing in that blast zone lives. The size of the blast zone depends on the weight of the bomb and whether it's delivered as a surface or air detonation. With the kiloton ratio that they have in most military weapons-grade bombs today, you can usually count on anything within one-hundred miles in every direction either dying or being exposed to so much radiation that they'll die within days. And then there's the fallout…"
"Why would Muggles make a weapon designed to kill everything on earth?"
Draco seemed very disturbed – angry, even - by the information she had given him.
She shrugged. "Why does anyone look to cause mass genocide? Ego, power, fear."
He looked at her as if he could see into her very soul. "So, you're saying it's in our basic nature to want to kill each other?"
Hermione dropped her gaze to the floor, uncomfortable answering that. Three years ago, she might have said 'no' – that such a will belonged only to a select few who enjoyed misery and control. Now, she wasn't so sure, because the truth was, if she could find the men who'd tortured and raped her repeatedly in prison, she would kill them. It wouldn't just be justice – it would be revenge.
"They'd deserve it," he murmured, and when she blinked and looked up, Draco was standing inches from her. She could feel his minty breath fan across her cheek as he spoke very gently to her. "The men who hurt you while you were in Azkaban deserve death. If you ever saw them again and Avada'd them, no one would think less of you." He reached up very hesitantly, as if unsure of the action, and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. It was decidedly cool through her relatively thin shift. "I certainly wouldn't. I'd even help you, if you asked."
Blocking out her trauma had done wonders to keep her from falling apart, but now, flashes of horrible memories returned and she shut her eyes to them, taking a series of deep breaths to keep hysteria away.
"Yes, I think it's in our basic nature to kill, as it is to steal, lie and dominate. Human beings are selfish creatures," she admitted in a sorrowful whisper. "But we have higher reason, too, and a moral compass. They're all that separate us from the monsters."
Draco's hand slid off her shoulder as she finished her thought, and when she opened her eyes, he was across the room again, standing at the foot of his bed. His gaze was lost in the creams and whites of his bed linens, tracing the embroidered pattern of the coverlet.
"Everyone's a monster, Granger," he sighed, and there was a touch of remorse in his expression. "Some of us are just better at hiding it." He let that sit between them for a minute or two, and then turned and strode with purpose to the door. "I'll think on what you said and send Mopsy to find out what the Muggles and Ministry are planning for the handling of this plague." He opened the door, and his voice was resolute. "Maybe we can get them not to bomb this beautiful country and kill us all."
With that, he left her to her chores.
As she began hanging his shirts on their wooden hooks, she thought it almost ironic that Malfoy hadn't put together from the discussion the fact that Voldemort had been a genocidal maniac, too – and that wizards like him and the Dark Lord he'd served were just as guilty as Muggles when it came to war.
Malfoy Manor – Wiltshire, England
1 June, 2001
Settling into a routine and the new life she had been given had become easy for Hermione. Repetitiveness was the key.
Unlike the other women in the house - most of whom seemed torn between hating their servitude and remaining quietly accepting of it - Hermione actually didn't mind the work. It allowed her the chance to forget her awful past and to concentrate on the present or to consider the future.
Particularly, she spent days and nights contemplating the zombie plague and how its continued spread would affect her future. After her last talk on the subject with her Master, she began to worry. Had he sent Mopsy to find the Ministry, which had been rumoured to have moved to Paris? Would the Muggles simply nuke the whole island and be done with it? To prevent contagion to the rest of the world, they just might. After all, who knew if the virus could be spread through water sources? Thus far, she'd been told biting seemed to be the transmission medium, but what if the disease mutated? Or even more fantastical: could a zombie simply walk on the bottom of the ocean to another continent and begin rampaging over there? It wasn't like they needed to breathe air. If such a thing were even remotely possible, could they infect the water as they passed through? If so, the whole world would be doomed.
She also spent an inordinate amount of time wondering what had caused the plague to begin with, and if there might be a way to develop a cure for it. She knew from the other servants' gossip that there were a lot of people – wizards and witches mostly, who could ward off their property – still living in England. They refused to abandon their ancestral homes, especially when they could easily defend them. As for the Muggles… there were a lot of unlucky people who hadn't made the evacuation boats or planes that had pulled out in early April. If they were still alive, they were living in the country, too, away from the cities where the undead seemed to coalesce. And, if the sickness only required a two-week pass for zombies to begin dying from lack of blood nutrition, then she knew that it was only a matter of time before the epidemic would eventually be over.
But then, that was assuming it only struck humans. Did it affect Dementors, Centaurs, Acromantulas, Dragons, Doxies, or any other of the plethora of magical creatures and Beings inhabiting the Isles? What about 'regular' animals, like dogs, birds, turtles, and fish? If so, it could be a long wait, indeed, before it was safe to emerge from behind bespelled walls.
Having done some rudimentary reading up on the Muggle science of virology and bacteriology the summer before sixth year (when she'd been confined to a healing bed rest for weeks because of Dolohov's curse), and her curiosity naturally piqued by such random thoughts, she finally plucked up her courage enough to ask the questions of Draco one afternoon. He listened, intrigued, his face a mask of contemplation for her words. "Figures you'd be the one to think up something the rest of us hadn't," he praised her with a smirk, and left, presumably, to speak with his fellow conspirators.
Malfoy Manor – Wiltshire, England
3 June, 2001
"You've got your wish, Granger," Malfoy informed her.
He loomed over her as she scrubbed the marble tile of his bathroom on hands and knees with bucket and brush. She glanced up the length of his darkly clad body to meet his enigmatic gaze.
"Leave it, stand up and follow me."
She did as he bade, wiping her wet hands on a towel on the way out. He directed her down into what she knew from Harry and Ron's previous description had been the Manor's dungeon for prisoners. It had been converted into a fully-stocked potions workshop. "I've established communication with the new, self-appointed Ministry. They setup shop after Voldemort disappeared, and moved to France once the plague became an issue. Your concern about nuclear destruction is shared with the Minister. He doesn't want it anymore than we do, and his administration is working on keeping the Muggles from carrying through with such a plan. I've convinced them to give us some time to try to find a cure for the plague using wizarding means. They've agreed to look at it with Muggle science. If we can manage a cure in time, it means a full pardon for all of us for everything done in the war, and you and the other women can go free. As of today, you're no longer going to serve as my personal maid," he pronounced to her without fanfare.
"I expect all of your attention to be focused on finding a cure. Do you need anything aside from this?"
She gaped at him. "But… but I don't have the correct knowledge to go about even looking at viruses under microscopes, much less developing a cure for the deadliest one known to mankind!"
He showed her a stack of Muggle science books. All of them had library markings.
"Did you… did you steal those from a library?" she asked, appalled at the thought. Quickly, she rifled through them. "These are-" She shook her head, flummoxed by the sheer impossibility of the task he expected of her. "They're elementary science books. They don't tell me anything significant on the subject of viruses and bacteria aside from the very rudimentary understandings of them. I'd need higher educational texts – and about five years to study it all!"
"We don't have five years, Granger," Malfoy calmly stated. "We have six months. After that, the Muggle government is prepared to act. The Ministry thinks it'll mean the end of Great Britain."
She took a deep breath, seeking her center. "Look, I doubt the Muggles could come up with a cure in that time, and they're far more advanced than wizards when it comes to understanding disease. Maybe…" It pained her to say it, but she had to be realistic. "Maybe we should just go and let them do what they must here."
Draco put his hands on her covered shoulders, which forced her to look up at him. "My family came here in the twelfth century, Granger. The Malfoy homestead has stood on this very spot in various forms for over seven-hundred years. Everything I am and ever will be is tied up here, in this place. I can't leave."
"Then you'll die here," she pointed out, meeting his anger with her own. "You'll condemn us all to die here for your outmoded tradition and ancient legacy."
He opened his mouth to refute, but closed it again with a snap. His grey eyes were furious points of light in his pale face and his jaw was set in a stubborn alignment. "It's been my personal experience to discover that nothing motivates a human being more than a countdown to doom." He dropped his arms from her person and stepped back two paces, giving them both ample space to breathe again. "You have six months to make sure we don't die here."
His face was as set as his resolve on the matter, and arguing it in that moment would be, she knew, an exercise in futility. For that reason, she chose to temporarily yield to the possibility of his plan.
Gazing about, she recognized in an instant that what she'd need wouldn't be found in a wizard's arsenal. "I need you to bring here Muggle devices to determine the type of disease we're dealing with. Microscopes, Petri dishes, droppers, vials…" She shook her head. "Finding a cure for this most likely can't be done solely by magical means. It's going to require a bit of Muggle science, too." She sighed, and ran a hand through her very short, pixie-cut hair – something she'd had Mopsy do that first day she'd arrived, as her hair had been so tangled and shorn at different lengths that it had seemed more practical to simply cut it than to try to salvage it. "I need to backtrack where the plague started and when. Any information on its origins would help-"
"Come with me," he redirected them back upstairs to what was, to her great delight, a huge library. "Mopsy, come," he summoned the elf. When she popped in, he instructed her to find the other Lords of the house and bring them to him immediately.
As they waited for the summoned to arrive, Hermione's body automatically headed across to the rows upon rows of ancient books, neatly stacked on shelves. She was afraid to touch anything, but her eyes skimmed the titles with a greedy awe. There were books on dark spells, ancient curses, magical creatures, wizarding history, political and game theory, and healing. This last group caught her attention, and she reached for a tome, only to pull her hand back at the last minute. She hadn't asked permission, and wasn't sure the books here were safe to open.
"Everything in this room is safe for you to touch. Take whatever you need," Draco informed her, coming up behind and reaching for one of the books on Middle Eastern wizarding medicine. "If you require research materials, and you can't find them here, simply tell me and I'll bring them to you."
She gratefully took the book from his hand. In the transfer, their fingers accidentally brushed and she paused at the wonderful feel of soft, pale flesh under her fingertips. It had been so long since she'd actually, willingly touched another human being's skin – at least three years…
His temperature was ice cold.
His breath on her neck was hot.
She froze, unsure if she would be punished somehow for her accidental trespass.
Instead, she felt his lips shiver right over her ear. Warm air tickled past her in a trembling breeze as he bent his head to the bend in her throat and deeply inhaled, scenting her. A deep, vibrating moan of interest and pleasure erupted from between his lips, and in the next moment, he stepped into her, pressing the full length of his body against her back. Solid, powerful strength cradled her painfully-thin frame. His magic rolled off of him in blistering waves of energy, stroking against her aura with bold, desirous caresses. It made her skin pimple, shot nerves of fire up her spine, and had her belly turning over in fear.
"Finally touching your Mudblood, eh, Malfoy?" Theodore Nott gaily called as he sauntered into the room and threw his long, weedy body into a cushioned chair. "About time."
In an instant, her Master pulled away.
He didn't reply to his friend's accusation, and her back was turned so she had no idea if they'd passed facial or hand signals, but she did hear the clink of glass against glass and the glug-glug sound of a liquid being poured into a container as one of them – presumably Draco, as from her peripheral vision, she could see Nott had not moved from his seat – took a drink from the traditional alcohol caddy on the other side of the room.
In another time and place, she might have been tempted to ask him to pour her a topper, too, regardless of what it was he was drinking. Her nerves could sure use a shot of liquid courage right then.
Taking a slow, deep breath, she tried to still her pounding heart, and turned her attention back to the rows of books to seek a distraction from her embarrassment. Thoughts of Draco touching her… She wasn't sure she could handle that kind of attention from him or any man ever again – not after what they'd done to her in prison.
Over the next few minutes, the rest of the men sauntered in, talking in twos and threes about the performances of their servants in bed, making deals to trade off for the night to measure them up and compare. The idea made Hermione positively sick, and for the first time since she'd given up in prison, she felt a spark of righteous anger reignite in her soul.
Draco called them to order with an easy clearing of his throat. "I spoke with my slave about her new task. She has concerns. I'll let her explain the Muggle science issues."
Hermione turned, recognizing her cue. With self-control re-established and a bit of steel returned to her spine, she stepped forward to the desk in the center of the room, to get everyone's attention. Before she could blink an eye, Malfoy reached out and grabbed her by the leather collar around her neck, pulling her into his side, making it clear that she was his property.
She scowled up at him. "You're hurting me. And, really, where am I going to go?"
The fact was, she didn't have a wand – none of the women in the house did. From the beginning, in-between her duties, she'd spent her time looking for one, as well as anything else that might be used to aid her in an escape attempt, all to no avail. Further, the slave collars were charmed not only to resist being removed except by the hands of their Masters, but also to prevent the women from hurting themselves or others purposefully. They couldn't commit suicide or kill their enslavers to get out, and without a means to make it past the house wards anyway, she and the other women were virtually trapped there at the Manor. Malfoy understood all of this as well as she did, so why he felt the need to remind her of her captivity in such a chest-thumping, uncivilized manner was really quite absurd.
"Oooh, you'd better start training her, Drake," Nott teased, but there was a dark undertone to his words, as if he relished whatever measures were deemed necessary to 'tame' a servant. "Seems Gryffindor's lioness still has her bite."
"Did your stint in Azkaban teach you nothing, slave?" Warrington mocked, his light green gaze traveling up and down her form.
Although she was dressed the same as the other servants in the house - in a long, shapeless and ugly, dark grey frock that was belted with a simple strip of leather around her waist and wearing a pair of soft, leather shoes that had no heel – Hermione felt decidedly uncomfortable under the man's disgusting, obvious leer. There was nothing provocative about her appearance, but clearly, he found the significance of the outfit – that of a slave – sexually appealing. She shuddered.
"Mind your tongue, or I'll find a way to curb it," Malfoy growled at her, and yanked her collar again – hard. "Now tell them what you told me earlier."
In a flash, the reality of her situation came slamming home.
SHE. WAS. A. SLAVE.
The man who held her in bondage wasn't kind, he wasn't her friend, and he wasn't a good man. She meant less to him than the dirt on the bottom of his shoes; she was a means to an end and that was all. Draco Malfoy was a cruel, sick bastard who had willingly served the most evil wizard in history and now enslaved human beings. Just because he fed her, clothed her and didn't beat her didn't change any of those facts.
Good Godric, she'd been treated so poorly for so long, that now that her situation wasn't as bad as it had been at Azkaban, she'd almost considered serving as a slave to be a comfortable lifestyle! She'd been sliding down that slippery slope into Stockholm Syndrome, hadn't she?
Well, she wouldn't be making that mistake again!
Concentrating on the lecture, she presented to the group what she knew about viruses from her research on Muggle science, and how inoculations were developed for some of the worst diseases in human history – polio, tuberculosis, smallpox, etc. Afterwards, she was sent back to the downstairs potions lab to inventory what she had versus what she thought she might need, while the men discussed what to do.
TO BE CONTINUED…